During my morning read of the internets I came across a quite interesting and thought provoking article from Louis Gray, entitled: Physical Media Has To Go. I’m Digital Only From Here.
Quick summary for those who don’t want to read the whole blog posts I’m responding to.
Louis points out that how in reality we use very little of our huge physical media collections that we used to own. He also points out how services such as Netflix and Spotify have changed how we consume content, arguably leading to an all digital society.
So I want to respond to this post and argue that while all digital is great for convenience and for most people it may be more than suitable. We as a society are really not really for dumping all those CDs and DVDs for subscription streaming.
Most of what I will write is more related to movies and TV shows as music has pretty much been solved over the past few years. (Increase in bandwidth and competition)
Subscription vs Purchasing
On the very basic level, Subscription is essentially paying a monthly fee in exchange for ‘unlimited’ (as in selection and access rather than length of time) access for that month, usual at a low cost.
Where as purchasing is you exchange a fee for the product that you then ‘own’ (EULAs may disagree but I’ve yet to see any proof that they will hold up legaly).
The internet is not ready for everyone to start streaming all of their content. Simple. Not only is dial-up usage still horrifically high (not so much the richest countries, but emerging economy’s will struggle). Where there is ‘high speed’ internet access (of atleast 2mb) there’s not enough bandwidth to stream realtime (see issues with storing for the other side).
Quality is a huge factor and selling point for physical media second to the actual ownership of the product (resell & lend to a friend just two of the selling points)
A DVD at retail is around 8gb of data with around 3 hours of content not only would you need around a 8MB internet connection, you might need to watch out for caps, throttling and all the other nasty things ISPs do to oversell their services.
So at this point you may be wondering about compression and such. Well if streaming services are going to replace physical media they need to have at-least the same quality if not better otherwise the whole idea will just not work. Imagine going back from enjoying full CD quality of Vinyl to 192kbps steaming (as audiophiles weep).
So if streaming high quality (read DVD – 2000s) is tough for most consumers; how about storing? Aside from the potential legal and inevitable DRM annoyances that will need to be implemented (to a point where you may never get to play your media in the same way you could with a disc). The consumer would need a safe way to store this media. TVs cant really do this at this stage. Computers could no problem, but its hard to get that content then onto the TV (Home DLNA doesn’t really cut it ‘yet’). DVR is the perfect device for this, providing there is enough space on that for all the films you wish to download. What about backing up if re-downloads are not allowed? (eg. iTunes).
As it stands dropping all physical media does not work. Sure if you just want to watch a film or listen to some music whilst you work. But you are seriously compromising on quality – what the producers of this entertainment work towards.
We are already stepping towards an all streaming society and in the long run I can see all media being available online in high quality with a touch of a button. With physical sales being sold though specialist stores (LPs now). Just not yet.
Quality is how the industry (Music, Film and TV) differentiate themselves from the pirates. Removing the selling points just make pirates look even more tempting.